DIY: Decorating an Outdoor Christmas Tree, the Natural Way

The festivities of Christmas call for rambunctious family dinners and social gatherings with friends. The vibrant hues of emeralds, golds and ruby decked through the house and traces of eggnog and gingerbread truly bring the Christmas spirit to life. A common family tradition to kick off the season starts with decorating the family tree, which some consider to be the heart that brings it all together.

xmastreeWhile you’re probably familiar with the numerous benefits trees deliver by now, we’ll add one more benefit to the list: outdoor Christmas tree. Having evergreen trees in your front yard is convenient during the holiday season when you can take those natural pyramidal frames and dress them up in tinsel and lights that they don’t have the chance to flaunt all year-round. But what if this year, instead of tinsel, you decorated your tree in something a bit more au natural? Something that could give back to the environment?

Here are 9 do-it-yourself decorating tips to embellish your outdoor tree that steer away from the traditional glitz and glamor but still make your home welcoming; it’s yet another way of bringing the family together and giving back to the environment, outside critters will thank you.

    • Spray paint pinecones: It’s a sure way to make them pop and still maintain the natural feel. Don’t forget to use a non-toxic spray paint.
    • Cinnamon walnut bundles: Cinnamon is great for decorating because it looks nice, adds aroma, and can be eaten by wildlife. There are numerous ways of using cinnamon sticks, one includes bundling three to four sticks together and stringing them with walnuts to create garland around the tree. Or hang them alone as ornaments, twine compliments it well.
    • Raisins, cranberries, figs: Use whatever dry fruit you have on hand and string them on wire around the tree to pair with garland.
    • Orange/lemon pomanders: This is a fun alternative to ornaments, cut slits around an orange or lemon and let it dehydrate, the crisp scent of citrus is refreshing, and the peels will easily break-down into the soil once you’re done through with your decorations.
    • Led lights: If you’re adamant on adding lights to your display opt for an LED option, they’re more energy efficient. Better yet, go for solar powered, you’ll save on energy costs and eliminate the hassle of cords.
    • Popcorn balls: Popcorn balls are fun and can easily be decorated with frosting. Birds and squirrels are also fans of the salty treat, so don’t be surprised if they pop up among unexpected guests.
    • Gingerbread cookies: Gingerbread is classic and it’s edible, so take advantage of its solid surface, whether it’s frosting the tops or cutting into shapes.
    • Apple slices: Cut thin slices of apple, let it dehydrate, and hang them around the tree.
    • Aluminum cupcake wrappers: If you’re still looking for that finishing touch, aluminum cupcake wrappers are a cheap way of adding some glitz. The reflections of aluminum will shine and the smooth finish should hold up against snow or rain.

As with anything, make it your own. Any of these ideas can be combined or used alone in decorating your outdoor tree. Best of all, cleanup is a breeze because most the items can be eaten by wildlife or used to make compost.

What other natural tips do you have in decorating an outside tree?

Favorite Tree Friday: The Silver Maple

silv mapleA few years back the Arbor Day Foundation used to hold a teen stewardship camp for 13-15 year olds at the Arbor Day Farm in Nebraska City. The camp was a way of bringing teens together and sparking an interest in environmental stewardship.

One year we took tree inventory for Nebraska City. The kids loved it and it was a great way for them to be hands-on. In taking inventory of trees it’s important to know which trees are which. So to help identify silver maple trees, the kids came up with a song to the rhythm of Silver Bells that still rings in my head today. The song described how to identify a silver maple, and simplified the uncertainty that followed when a tree’s identity was in question.

The silver luster that shines off the bark and undersides of its leaves makes me think of those hours with the campers and the fun we had, making it my favorite tree.


Paper Birch: The Quixotic Novelty

paper birch

Photo Credit: Nicholas A. Tonelli, Flickr

(Betula papyrifera)

Before it became frowned upon as an act of vandalism, people would peel layers of the thin, paper-like bark and write on it as a novel way to send messages, hence the paper birch was born. This New Hampshire state tree is often associated with beauty and romance, and it’s understandable why. With its lean trunk and towering height, the paper birch stands out amidst any forest backdrop. In addition to its early beginnings as a source of paper, the paper birch was also the tree of choice for early canoes because of its light weight and smooth grain.

Here are a few things to note if you’re considering adding it to your tree family.

Environmental Conditions

  • Paper birch grows in acidic, clay, loamy, moist and sandy soils, is also drought tolerant (hardiness zones 2-7).
  • Medium to fast growing tree, growing two to three feet a year and reaching 50-70 feet high at maturity.
  • Does well in full and partial sun.

Physical Attributes

  • Has a distinctive, smooth, white, paper-like bark that curls and peels as the trees ages.
  • Exhibits rich, golden, fall foliage.
  • Note: peeling the bark off will scar the tree with a dark band around the trunk, the area will not grow back with its natural white bark, so resist peeling.

If you could write a message to the forest, what would you say?

A Season of Thanksgiving

What a wonderful time of year this is that gives us the reminder and opportunity to express our gratitude and reflect on those things for which we are most thankful. 

fall leavesIndividually, we might be thankful for our friends or family, for the roof over our heads or food on the table.  It might be that we appreciate good health, which we often take for granted until we or a loved one experiences a problem.  We can also be thankful for colleagues and friends that support us in our work and care about us as people.

As members, supporters, and partners of the Arbor Day Foundation, we’re finding every day how our work positively has an impact on people’s lives. We can all take pride in knowing that we are making a difference.  We are helping people to recover from natural disasters, bringing life back to fire-ravaged landscapes, providing hope and sustenance for coffee growers and their families in rain forests around the globe, and helping to ensure that many people are involved in community forestry throughout the United States. We touch people’s lives in so many ways through our work at the Foundation. Each of us can be proud of and thankful for our contribution to making our world better.

No matter our situation or circumstance, we always have reasons to give thanks.   For me personally, many of the things I mentioned are true.  But I would also like to say “thank you,” to each of you: our members, supporters, and partners.  It is truly our honor and privilege to work with you and to have the opportunity to be a part of this great cause.

Thank you for all you do.

Wishing all a Happy Thanksgiving.


 Matt Harris

Chief Executive

Arbor Day Foundation


Arizona Cypress: The Southern Evergreen

Arizona Cypress

Tolerant of hot and dry conditions, the Arizona Cypress tree is an excellent tree for its native habitat, the southwestern United States and Northern Mexico. It makes a good windbreak, and it is also widely used for soil erosion planting. It is grown as a Christmas tree and used in the landscape as an ornamental.

Here are a few things to note if you’re considering adding an Arizona cypress to your yard.

Environmental Conditions

  • The Arizona Cypress grows in acidic, alkaline, drought tolerant, loamy, sandy and well drained soils (hardiness zones 7-9).
  • Medium growing tree, growing one to two feet a year and reaching 40-50 feet high at maturity.
  • Does best in full sun.

Physical Attributes

  • Soft gray-green foliage.
  • Think, fibrous, coarsely shedding bark.
  • Has a pyramidal shape, serving great as an outdoor Christmas tree.

Tag us in a photo with your Arizona cypress!

How We’re Working with Companies to Achieve Sustainability Goals

If there’s one thing for certain here at the Arbor Day Foundation, it’s this: we know trees.

For more than four decades, we have been making the best use of trees as a solution to global issues. Not only do we rely on the support of our nearly one million members, but also the support of our corporate partners to accomplish our mission of inspiring people to plant, nurture, and celebrate trees. These corporate partnerships are essential for us to be an agent of change—creating high-impact programs that truly make a difference in our world.

How does the Arbor Day Foundation work with organizations?

Flickr Nicola

Photo Credit: Nicola , Flickr

We do this in many ways, but it always starts with building relationships and listening to what the company is specifically looking for. As our relationship grows with an organization, they rely on us to help reach sustainability goals. You’d be surprised how often trees tie to corporate environmental initiatives.

For example, we recently worked with a Fortune 500 company to help achieve its carbon reduction goals. This particular organization set a goal to reduce net emissions by 50% from its 2012 level by 2020. We worked with the organization through our reforestation carbon program in the Mississippi Alluvial Valley to retire verified carbon offsets on the company’s behalf.

When you choose trees as part of your carbon offset strategy, the benefits go far beyond just carbon sequestration in the fight against climate change, including: improved water quality, improved air quality, soil stabilization, job creation, flood control, and wildlife habitat. We also work with organizations on watershed restoration projects, paper reduction, and community rebuilds after natural disasters, to name a few.

Along with reaching specific sustainability goals, we work with organizations in other ways as well, such as engaging and celebrating employees, supporting environmental conservation through education programs, and driving and inspiring consumer purchases.

One of our longest corporate partnerships features 25 trees planted for every product sold. Over the duration of our partnership, more than 1.3 million trees have been planted in our nation’s forests. The company uses tree related messaging in its marketing materials and highlights the impact to its customers. This creates awareness for both the corporate partner and the work we do, all the while positively affecting the earth—truly a win-win for everybody.

Reforestation offers a number of benefits other carbon offset programs cannot. Our team is eager to implement any sustainability goals your organization may have. Challenge us to stay creative—we love developing unique programs specific to your company’s needs.

Visit our Corporate Partnerships page to learn more about what our partnerships can look like, or email us at or call 1-877-445-9917.

Meet the Largest Tree City USA Community

More than 135 million residents in 3,400 communities across America and Puerto Rico call their home a Tree City USA. Tree City USA is a program of the Arbor Day Foundation that provides the framework for communities to manage and improve the care of public trees.

NYCFor 19 years the 8.4 million residents of New York, New York have called their home a Tree City USA, earning recognition as early as 1983 and spanning to 2014.

Locals and tourists of New York City can appreciate the beauty of the five million trees found throughout city by relishing a scenic bike ride or strolling along any number of parks.

Despite being an influential center of art, culture and finance, New York City is comprised of more than 11,000 acres of parkland—equating to 40% of the city—demonstrating that it places importance on community forestry as much as its other attractions.

But it doesn’t stop there. New York City continues to grow its community forest through initiatives such as MillionTreesNYC—a campaign launched in 2007 aimed at planting one million trees by 2017. Approximately 70% of the trees—700,000 trees—are to be planted in parks and other public spaces. Residents can even participate in the program by adopting trees and tracking the care of their trees online. Nearly 12,000 trees have been adopted in the MillionTreesNYC program.

A city known for its rich heritage and early beginnings, New York is becoming a pioneer in yet another area: community forestry. Their dedication to continuously grow their community forest sets an example of what’s possible even in a metropolis.

Is your community a Tree City USA? Learn more about our standards and how it can benefit your city.

Lacebark Elm: The Underdog

lacebark elm leaves

Photo Credit: Bri Weldon, Flickr

Considered a handsome and very durable tree, the Lacebark Elm is attractive as a street tree because of its ability to grow in adverse conditions and its relative freedom from the diseases that have ravaged many other Elm species. It earns its name from its distinctive bark that creates colorful patterns in its trunk resembling lace.

Here are a few things to note if you’re considering adding a lacebark elm to your yard.

Environmental Conditions:

  • lacebark elm bark

    Photo Credit: Selena N.B.H., Flickr

    Lacebark elm grows well in rich, moist, well-drained, sandy, clay and loamy soils (hardiness zones 5-9).

  • Medium to fast growing tree, growing two to three feet a year and reaching 40-50 feet at maturity.
  • Full sun is ideal, but does well in multiple sun exposures.
  • Has some flood tolerance and drought resistance.

Physical Attributes:

  • Produces luscious, dark green leaves that change to yellow and red in the fall.
  • Has a distinctive bark that makes the tree stand out from others.
  •  Has a strong, rounded, crown making it ideal as a shade tree.

Do you have a lacebark elm? Tag us in a photo with it, we’d love to see!

Plant Trees in Honor of Your Loved Ones

Wouldn’t it be great if you could help the environment and at the same time honor your loved ones? I am excited to tell you two touching ways to leave a lasting impression, through the Trees in Celebration and Trees in Memory program—an initiative that plants trees in celebration or in memory of your family and friends. It’s a win-win!

TIM_card_with_textWhether it is the celebration of a milestone birthday or anniversary, graduation from high school or college, or even the birth of a new baby – whatever the event, give them a gift that will live on long after the party is over. Trees in Celebration lets you celebrate your friends and family in an enduring way: every dollar plants a tree in one of our nation’s forests in the name of the recipient and is recorded in our official Tree Registry. You receive a commemorative certificate for every donation you make, or if you are giving a last-minute gift you have the option to print at home. It is that easy!

Just as we celebrate, we also grieve. Trees in Memory is a meaningful way to have trees planted in memory of a lost loved one or friend. I’ve personally donated to Trees in Memory in honor of those who have passed in lieu of flowers. I received notes of appreciation that the spirit of their loved one will live on in a lasting and memorable way.

Similar to Trees in Celebration, every donation plants trees in one of our nation’s forests that have been devastated by natural disasters, whether it’s a forest fire or storm. The name of the recipient will be recorded in our official Tree Registry and you have the option to ship the personalized card to yourself or directly to the recipient. In addition, you can download and print a certificate at home.

Planting a tree is an act of direct benefit to all. They benefit the environment in numerous ways, including clean air and water, combating climate change, and providing habitat for animals – to name just a few. In addition to all of the environmental benefits, trees also provide healing attributes – including stress release.

The next time you are looking for a way to celebrate or memorialize your loved ones I encourage you to consider Trees in Celebration and Trees in Memory. You’ll be glad you did. Visit our website to get started.

Cupping Coffee: From the Rainforest to your Mug

Have you ever wondered how Arbor Day Coffees are selected and the process they undergo before being delivered to your doorstep?

We are always on the lookout for the best shade-grown coffees around the world. We visit farmers to ensure Arbor Day Coffee is shade-grown under the canopy of the rain forest and verify that sustainable farming practices are implemented. Shade-grown coffee produces a higher quality bean and results in a rich and flavorful cup. In determining if a coffee meets our quality standards, we look at a number of different factors through a method called cupping.

Coffee cupping is a process used in the industry to measure aroma, taste and overall quality of coffee beans. The first step of cupping starts with roasting the green coffee beans. In fact, before coffee is roasted it is referred to as “green coffee” because of its light green coloration. Each country and individual growing region has its own unique flavors. In order to maintain each flavor profile during our evaluation, we roast our coffee to a light roast just after first crack—a popping sound made in the roasting process when moisture is released from the coffee bean. A darker roast tends to burn out the unique origin taste profiles and doesn’t allow for good samples of coffee.

IMG_1017 (2)Once the coffee is roasted, we measure and grind the coffee into three to five cups. This helps us identify any defects and ensure consistency among each set. Then, we smell the fragrance of the dry, ground coffee and look for any hints of distinct flavors and check for freshness.




IMG_1022 (2)Next, we add water—heated between 200 and 204 degrees— and let it steep for four minutes. While it is steeping, we smell the aroma of the wet coffee, looking for any deficiencies and examining its richness.





IMG_1032 (2)

At four minutes, we “break the crust” of coffee grounds that have floated to the top of the cup and again, smell the aromas released by the coffee. Aromas in coffee can vary from flowery, fruity and herby to nutty, chocolaty and spicy.





IMG_1036 (2)As the coffee cools we begin the tasting process. We look for consistency in flavor, aftertaste, acidity, body, balance and sweetness. By slurping the coffee, we are able to use all of our taste buds to determine the level of sour, sweet, salty and bitter flavors opposed to simply swallowing it. We grade each category and sum the total scores to see where it falls on a 100 point scale. Coffee is determined specialty if it is graded at an 80 or higher on this scale.

After a coffee is scored and approved as meeting our flavor profiles and quality expectations, we start shipping it to the United States to begin the roasting and packaging process.

What is your preferred flavor of Arbor Day specialty coffee? Tag us in a photo with your mug.